Despite near-universal praise from the gaming press, my first 3DS impression was a bit mixed. While I appreciated Nintendo’s efforts to give the aging DS hardware line a much-need boost of processing power, the unit’s three-dimensional effect only sporadically worked for me. With the hardware awkwardly tethered to a model, the sensation of depth was intermittent. Months later at a press event, the 3DS offered a slightly better impression, yet still seemed to occasionally drift out of focus.
The problem can be attributed to operator error. What the Nintendo hostess and PR reps neglected to advise me was that the illusion of 3D works best when the unit is ten to fourteen inches from your eyes. In an effort to not look like a total geek, I was holding the 3DS similar to the way I enjoy the DS hardware- a coolly detached, arm’s-length away. Bringing the unit closer to my face, I was able to see the undeniable attraction of Nintendo’s new portable.
The 3D Effect
Depending on the software, the illusion of gaming in three dimensions ranges from flawless to stable, with occasional interruptions. Unquestionably, Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition is the unit’s showcase title. With the 3D slider raised, the game resembles a diminutive diorama where two fully articulated action figures are engaged in heated combat. Where some 3DS titles divulge their pixels through aliasing, many of Street Fighter IV‘s backgrounds offer seamless, unpixelated planes of depth. Ridge Racer 3D‘s sensation of depth is also impressive, with passing environmental objects having a fullness about them. Whereas many stereoscopic 3D games (such as the Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Han Tao) have presented paper-thin characters which interacted on different planes, objects in 3DS games have true depth to them.
Regrettably, even when the 3DS is within the recommended viewing range, the illusion of a three dimensional playfield occasional falters. LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars shakes the screen when a large explosion occurs, temporarily disrupting the effect. Although Madden Football performed well, ghosting of objects was infrequently noticeable, especially for brightly colored objects.
Hardware and Bundled Apps
Much like it’s imminent rival, the Sony NGP, the Nintendo 3DS is brimming with features; a week after unboxing, the unit is still revealing its nuances. With the twin 1/3 MP cameras on the portable’s front face; owners can snap both 2D and 3D photos, which are initiated with a button press, timer countdown or even a voice command. After the picture is taken it can be doodled on in a rudimentary paint app, or placed in a slideshow. While the low resolution of the camera means photos can be a bit grainy, the three dimensional effect is impressive when a snapshot with varying distanced objects is taken. The 3DS Sound app allows owners to capture and play recordings from the bundled 2GB SD card. Cleverly, users can tap the shoulder button to mix in snares or toms, or cycle through visualizers which pay tribute to Exitebike and the old Game and Watch handhelds.
Although Mii Maker doesn’t differ wildly from the Wii’s avatar system, the ability for the system to create a persona from a photo is an elegant touch. More entertaining is the 3DS’s AR Games arena, which lets owners play a collection of energetic mini-games. By placing a card of in front of the portable’s camera, the 3DS is able to craft imaginary objects in real space, recalling the combatants from Eye of Judgment. Players can opt to create photos with posable Nintendo figures, or play archery, fishing, and a billiards/golf hybrid. Seeing the game transform a flat surface such as a table into a hilly knoll flanked by lava ponds is quite an amazing feat- hopefully, Nintendo will continue to deliver on these initial prospects.
With a limited number of 3DS’s in current circulation, I was unable to fully test the functionality of the unit’s StreetPass component- yet, what’s there appears promising. With units in sleep mode- passing within 98 feet of another 3DS unit should trigger an optional exchange of Mii’s- and activate elements embedded in up to a dozen games. Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition stages a statistical battle with collectable figurine teams, while Ridge Racer 3D swaps ghost data. With the portable’s built in pedometer, each step a player makes generates in-game currency. There’s even comprehensive tracking- which charts each stride as well as the duration of the last 256 games you’ve played.
Often, the 3DS user interface feels like a home console-based experience. At anytime, players can press the home button to check on their battery life, Wi-Fi connectivity, or the number of steps they’ve taken, with their game conveniently paused. Regrettably, the system’s menus have limited input redundancy- a tap of the stylus always works, but users can’t access all of the 3DS’s functionality via the directional pad. Naturally, the system does have a few additional niggling oversights. The top screen is fastened a bit too loosely, periodically closing when a vigorous upward motion was performed in AR Games Fishing. Although the game’s internal speakers recall the power and clarity of the DSiXL’s output, when headphones are connected the unit’s maximum volume is woefully subdued. Lastly, I’m not a fan of the system’s flush select, home, and start buttons- without solid tactile feedback, pausing a game felt uncertain.
Undoubtedly, the 3DS’s $250 price tag commands consideration, placing the hardware in the same price range as premium home consoles. Yet, given the unit’s thoughtful design and capabilities, paying an extra hundred dollars for 3D, a higher resolution top screen, and extra processing power seems entirely reasonable. With titles which converge on the depth and attractiveness of existing home-based systems, the 3DS is destined to change players perceptions and expectations of portable systems. Stay tuned for reviews of the unit’s launch lineup, as the hardware’s March 27th release date draws near.